Independent member for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps is seen at a Wentworth by-election evening function at North Bondi Life Saving Club, Sydney.
Independent member for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps is seen at a Wentworth by-election evening function at North Bondi Life Saving Club, Sydney. AAP Image - Chris Pavlich

Phelps wins Wentworth: Liberal heartland in open rebellion

KERRYN Phelps is the new member for Wentworth after the predominantly Liberal-voting electorate abandoned the government in droves. 

The independent danced her way through supporters and took to the stage amid chants of "Kerryn! Kerryn!".

Dr Phelps accidentally thanked the people of Warringah first before correcting herself and saying "Wentworth" instead. She also thanked her amazing team of "purple people".

"Just a few short weeks ago I was told this was an impossible task and if we actually managed to win the seat of Wentworth, that it would be a miracle," she said.

"It was said if we won the seat of Wentworth, it would make history and my friends, we have made history today.

Dr Phelps said her win was a great moment for Australian democracy and should signal the return of "decency, integrity and humanity" to the Australian Government.

"And let's hope for a bit of commonsense on climate change," she said.

Exit poll shows climate change a key issue

The interim results of an exit poll commissioned by the Australia Institute and undertaken by Lonergan Research, shows concern about the government's support for coal and inaction on climate change influenced many people's vote.

According to the poll of 1049 voters in Wentworth, 78 per cent said climate change and replacing coal with renewables had some influence on their vote. 33 per cent named it as the most important issue.

Among former Liberal voters who switched to Phelps, Malcolm Turnbull's toppling was the top concern (44 per cent), followed by climate change (28 per cent) but about 81 per cent of these voters said climate change had some influence on how they voted.

"Prime Minister Scott Morrison once brought a lump of coal into Parliament, but his government's climate-wrecking, anti-science stance has gone down like a lead balloon with the voters of Wentworth," Australia Institute deputy director Ebony Bennett said.

Dave Sharma surprised by speed of his loss

The Liberal candidate acknowledged that tonight's result came "a little sooner than I expected", joking "I'm certainly glad I kept my day job".

Mr Sharma noted that it had been the first time he had run for elected office.

"It has been a little bruising, no doubt about it, and it certainly has had some surprises, too. It has also been, though, a very humbling and enlightening experience," he said.

"I'm sorry I wasn't able to earn the trust of the voters of Wentworth tonight, but I have deeply enjoyed getting a window into their lives and a window into their concerns and a window into the priorities of literally thousands of Australians."

He praised his rival Dr Phelps as "formidable" and said he would do whatever he could to support her in her role.

Mr Sharma also thanked previous Liberal member Malcolm Turnbull, saying he had been a fine Australian and made a fine contribution as Prime Minister.

"I'm sorry Malcolm couldn't be here tonight, but he has been in touch with me to pass on his best wishes and I do appreciate all the support he has been able to provide during this campaign," he said.

Scott Morrison's speech slammed

While the Prime Minister's speech to Liberal supporters at Dave Sharma's election party was heartily cheered, it has not gone down well on social media.

Many said it showed a lack of humility and that Mr Morrison had not understood the message from voters.

In contrast, Mr Sharma's speech was praised for being gracious and respectful.